Dimple dikhake bewakoof bannane ka formula shuru!
A feisty girl, locked down in a wheelchair, makes this brilliant observation rather early on in the film, hinting at how it’s tough for Shah Rukh Khan to play anyone but himself. And that’s exactly what unfolds over the two hours or more, as director Aanand L Rai struggles to make sense of a superstar and his desires to break away from his brand of romance.
Yet, Rai falls into the same trap. He succeeds in reducing him in height but is unable to stop SRK from playing a soapy lover, one that he has played all through his career. There’s the star’s signature arms-spread-wide-open moves and lines around his dimples that’ll make any discerning audience cringe. Hell, he even scrunches up his face and dances around in lavishly choreographed song sequences, in slow-mo no less, to win over an audience and possibly box-office cheer.
“Dwarfs are great for the TRPs,” announces a selector at a dance competition, evidently echoing why SRK wants to give his hero image a tiny makeover. So Rai sets him up in a circus ring and uses special effects to shrink him and surrounds him with more characters with handicaps. Probably because he didn’t want any of them to complain about inequality! The hero’s sidekick is handed a blind eye while his ladylove is given a disorder that makes her shake vigorously. There’s another woman who is given a broken heart and a bottle as crutches. But none of these characters win us over because their drawbacks are used inconsistently and conveniently for the laughs or to manipulate us emotionally.
While Rai has invested in some impressive VFX, his Bauaa Singh falls short of being a dwarf. His height wavers through the film, apart from when he appears in his baniyan and shorts. But for most parts, he’ll pass off as just another short guy. But what Rai lacks in continuity, he makes up by churning out “dwarf jokes” to pump up the first half.
SRK breathes his effervescent charm into Bauaa but is unable to elevate him into anything but a bumbling Bollywood hero. He even collects his celeb pals Deepika Padukone, Alia Bhatt, Juhi Chawla, Karisma Kapoor, Kajol, Rani Mukerji, Sridevi AND Salman Khan to show his star power. But those are routines that Karan Johar has mastered, so Rai pales in comparison.
It’s when the director brings out his celeb pals Madhavan and Abhay Deol that you feel some amount of genuineness. Alas! Those moments are far too few.
The women have substantial parts but it’s Katrina Kaif who walks away the winner because she gets to hit back at a certain Kapoor and his “cheating DNA”. Anushka Sharma, however, is left to play Stephen Hawking. Only, she lacks talent or insight to bring it to life.
Rai, however, manages to salvage much of the damage when he anchors the story in Meerut. It’s what he does best and you watch him flourish, but when he shifts his canvas to Mumbai, and later to a space station in America, you see him struggle to make sense of that world.
There’s a moment when Bauaa dances with abandon when his heroine Babita Kumari’s item number unfolds on the big screen. It’s beautifully captured and impactful but Rai must then cut to the lady’s main dance moves in glossy frames because the cinema screen doesn’t capture its full glory. That misplaced judgement is what downgrades Zero into becoming anything spectacular.